Published: November 2nd 2007November 2nd 2007
Since leaving Quito, we´ve travelled into the Amazon jungle and have now moved to Banos, a town with thermal springs that sits at the foot of an active Volcano. Ecuador has proven to be a really pleasant surprise - I came out here with few expectations but the scenary is stunning - we´ve travelled through high mountain passes, steep forested gorges, past waterfalls, and through parts of the amazon jungle. The communities that we pass are also fascinating. Most buildings are shacks made out of whatever is available - wood, concrete, tin, plastic etc. Most look unfunished but they are relatively well made. We´re travelling in a massive bright yellow truck so we get a few people looking at us.
Also we travel on some very narrow roads and quite a few bridges have been washed away so driving is pretty precarious. The quality of the roads also varies. On our first travel day we were bounced quite literally out of our seats.
There are some aspects of life that takes some getting use to. The pluming in some areas cannot handle toilet paper or other waste so it all goes in the bin. This is ok but you
can feel a little sorry for the people sharing the bathroom when we´re been out the night before for a few beers.
From Quito we moved to Misahualli which is situated in the Amazon basin. The jungle was secondary forest which means that it managed by the local communities and tribes. We did a few guided hikes along very steep and wet paths with our guide - think the Ecuadorian Ray Mears - pointing out the local fauna and insect life (we didn´t see any mamals and not many birds). We also got to observe some traditional craft making and got to use a blow dart gun. We stayed in some log cabins in the jungle and my legs are only just recovering from the Mosquitos.
A lot of people travel by the rivers and use motorised canoes. On the second day we did tubing down the river over some rapids which was a lot of fun (please insert your own joke re. spare tyre). In fact this place is really good for the sell esteem. Yesteday I did canyoning which meant trying to fit into a wet suit. Well there wasn´t a size big enough and when
I did partially wear one I looked like I was off to a fetish club in Berlin - thankfully there are no photos! Canyoning itself was a lot of fun although I manged to slip once and end up face first against a 30m vertical rock face hanging from a rope. Still I´ve always excelled at adventure sports (village cricket teas in particualar). The day before a lot of the group tried bridge swinging, which consist of jumping of a bridge 25m above a river. I decided to give that one a miss.
Banos was a nice place to spend a few of days. We had a couple of nights out on the town getting acustomed to the music, nightlife and drinks - one in particular stood out. It contained three spirits in the colours of the Ecuadorian flag (Blue, Yellow, Red - god knows what they were) and it was set alight and downed in one. Unsurprisingly we decided to stick with the Cuba Libres. Apart from that our time in Banos was fairly uneventful. We challenged a group of local kids to a game of basketball and won a very hard fought contest after an hour or
so. I think the 2 foot height advantaged began to tell in the end. I got 'benched' very early on, mostly just for being shit at basketball. One night we took jeeps to try to see the currently active Tungurahua volcano but disappointingly there was a peristant and low lying fog which meant we saw nothing and spent an hour or so in the freezing cold.
It's early days but my impression of South America is that there are so many fewer rules than back home. For a start there is simple no notion of health and safety. In Misahualli, the kids played completely unsupervised, which meant jumping from the top of the slides or standing on fallen trees in the middle of fast moving rivers to get a better view of our boat going past. I'm guessing there are no parental consent forms or school admissions policies - there wasn't even an adult with them! There is simply no planning system as far as I can see. Buildings just go up anywhere, using whatever materials are available and often seem to be unfunished. And the traffic is a law unto itself.
The group I´m travelling is really
good. One of the guys has persuaded us to enter Movember, which is a charity fundraising event where guys don´t shave for the whole month of November, trying to grow the best facial hair. I´m not expecting it to be pretty. I think we will be setting up a site on the official website.
Later on today I´m signed up for a Salsa class which should be fun although I may try to find my partner some steel reinforced topcaps for her shoes.
In the next few days were off to the colonial town of Cuenca and then camping on the beach at Punta Sal.
There are more photos below